A lament from London

The Sligo v Roscommon match report published in last Monday’s Irish Independent – purchased in the kiosk at Richmond tube station on the way to work – demonstrated that Roscommon had deservedly lost on the previous day. A group of us here had allowed a series of text messages sent from Dr. Hyde Park during the game to paint a different picture, however, and the final score was thus sorely disillusioning for five displaced Rossies in London last Sunday. Five text messages from my old friend and mentor Noel Fallon fashioned a curious afternoon for a group of Roscommon expatriates congregated with 200 Irish exiles in the Prince Albert in Whitton. Patricia McDermott from Hyde Court joined Simon Cullen (Lough Road), Tommy O’Brien (Ardsallagh), Shane ‘Bobby’ Connaughton (Creggs), and this humble immigrant in that reassuringly Irish bar to watch the buffet of Gaelic games offered by RTE last Sunday. We were joined by Eoin Dempsey (County Home Road), Gerard Clogher (Boyle Road), and Buttons Gannon (Stonepark). The three boys were over in London for the weekend. Two televisions enabled us to keep up to speed with unfolding events at Croke Park, Semple Stadium, and Clones. Our hearts were in the Hyde, though, and the messages brought us on a cruelly disappointing odyssey. It was strange to be abroad while Roscommon played a championship game. Man doesn’t appreciate his condition until it is illustrated by its contrary: I was never as concerned about my county’s fortunes as I was at the weekend. My compatriots felt the same: absence on championship Sunday makes the heart grow fonder. Noel’s messages were scrutinised forensically and were analysed intensely amidst groups of cacophonous fellow Irishmen. Three messages that conveyed Roscommon’s superiority deluded us into thinking that our county would secure a berth in the Connacht final: ‘Sligo 3 Roscommon 0’ followed by ‘Ros 0-3 Sligo 0-3 25 mins’; ‘ht Roscommon 1-3 Sligo 0-4 Mannion goal’; and ‘Roscommon 2-5 Sligo 0-10’ suggested that Roscommon had recovered from a shaky start and that we’d scrape our way to victory. Karol Mannion’s honesty and reliability were debated at length by the group of appreciative ex-pats while we waited for our third update; there was consensus that he had ‘carried his form’ from his club’s All-Ireland semi-final run last spring through to the championship. Our failure to score more than five points in 55 minutes was discussed for a lengthy period, but we agreed that the success that seemingly impended was what was important. In lean times such as these for our county’s senior football team, victory is sufficient unto a Connacht semi-final. ‘Sligo won by 2’ received at 17.07 pm was consequently as surprising as it was devastating. What had happened? And how had it happened? We knew that Roscommon had been defending a narrow lead, but we expected that our county would hold on. Phone calls to home that evening together with the short match report in Monday’s paper revealed the nature of the loss; Sligo had deserved their first championship over Roscommon since 1997. The qualifiers impend: over here we hope that the RTÉ gurus in Montrose will televise Roscommon’s next game. Our experience last Sunday kindles a reverie: what of those thousands of GAA enthusiasts who left Ireland in harder times? Several ageing men sitting in the Prince Albert on Sunday were engrossed by the televisions; Irish emigrants surely pined for home on those Sundays when jobs in our Republic were scarce and when technology was primitive.